Russia’s Controversial Anti-Piracy Law


From August 1 the Russian anti-piracy law will allow copyright holders to file lawsuits against sites facilitating copyright infringement. Site owners will be required to remove content and links to content within 72 hours, or face having their entire domain blocked at ISP level pending the outcome of a court hearing.

From August 1 the Russian anti-piracy law will allow copyright holders to file lawsuits against sites facilitating copyright infringement. Site owners will be required to remove content and links to content within 72 hours, or face having their entire domain blocked at ISP level pending the outcome of a court hearing.

However, it is not just “pirate” sites that are concerned at how this will play out. Internet giants including Google and Wikipedia have voiced concerns that they are facing an impossible mission to police their operations for infringements carried out by their millions of users.

This law has been passed following years of pressure from the United States government and the entertainment industry. The U.S. Trade Representative has repeatedly identified VKontakte – Russia’s most popular social network – as one of the world’s hotbeds of piracy. We may also assume that this new law is part of the overall agreement for Russia to be allowed to join the World Trade Organization (effective since August 2012).

The alacrity of the process is striking: the bill passed in one day in two readings in the State Duma, was approved by the Federation Council five days later, and finally was signed by President Putin a week after. When the bill was drafted, Russian media reported that it had not been discussed with representatives of the Russian Internet business or industry experts. The whole process gives an impression of “legal haste”.

The law cannot be viewed in isolation from the current political context in which it was passed. Major foreign Web firms like Google, Facebook, or Twitter – which have all voiced their concerns over the essence of the bill – are currently facing a probe into possible tax and privacy violations.

This being said, it is a euphemism to state that copyright violations in Russia’s Internet are widespread. A United Russia MP recently assessed the annual damage from Russian “Internet pirates” at approximately 2 billion US dollars. Nevertheless, the final wording of the law does not include music.

Overall, the recent NSA scandal around Edward Snowden’s leaks revived a push for tighter controls over the Internet in Russia, on the basis that the above-mentioned transnational companies’ privacy policies pose a threat to Russia’s digital – and consequently national – sovereignty. A few – young and ambitious – members of both houses of the Russian parliament are focusing hard on digital issues, all of them jockeying for more restrictions online. To give just one example: a suggestion was made by a MP to locate all servers in Russia which hold the personal data of Russian citizens. There is a strong desire to reclaim “information sovereignty” from the U.S.

Some Russian opposition politicians, such as Dmitry Gudkov or Ilya Ponomaryov, think that the adoption of the anti-piracy bill will create grounds to denounce bloggers and activists, and it will be a new way to tackle the opposition. In the context of this kind of “inflation of norms”, opposition politicians – or, more fairly, dissenting voices amongst Runet’s highly heterogeneous ecosystem – are likely to face further restrictions.

Technically the bill allows copyright holders instant recourse to the courts – in fact Moscow City Court, which shows its “federal” nature – over websites hosting or linking to copyright-infringing content. The court will establish a deadline (within 15 days) for the claimant to file a formal suit, and will notify the site of the alleged violation. The site must then remove the material within three days. Otherwise, the court can block the site’s entire IP address until the case is reviewed. This measure, which already exists in the law on “blacklisted websites”, is technically flawed because every IP address is normally used by several unrelated websites, all of which end up on the blacklist if one of them is banned.

It also remains to be seen how fast Russia’s jurisdictions will adapt to this ever-changing environment. “Pirates” have already started to bypass the law. Some Internet users have been reported reacting by mass renaming of popular artists and their works using Russian words that sound roughly the same... Generally speaking, Internet users will not radically change their behaviour. But there is a debate underway on developing an electronic payment system – an idea that is paradoxically supported by Russia’s Pirate Party. However the use of credit cards has only very recently started to gain popularity in Russia – all this will be a matter of time.

It should be noted that in Western countries contention around intellectual property is one of the main Internet-related issues. There are two main aspects here: one is the growing attempt by copyright owners to push the responsibility for policing intellectual property rights onto Internet service providers. The other is the emergence of a transnational social movement promoting “access to knowledge” as a countervailing force to the globally coordinated lobbying of multinational copyright. Hence the current fight between governments pushing their anti-piracy policy – labeled SOPA and PIPA in the U.S., Hadopi in France, ACTA – and “the networked” rejecting such legal attempts, which they believe will stifle innovation and curtail online freedom. 

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.

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